If you have to leave your comfort zone this summer and go on vacation, you might as well make it a good one. Check out 13 destinations where nerds like us can feel at home.
It's summertime, and that means excusing oneself from sports and outdoor games, and finding good (enough) reasons to put off those gardening and landscaping projects. It also usually means some vacation time from work, which might be great if you're planning to lie on the couch and re-watch the last season of Game of Thrones. If painting the house, anything involving casual small talk, visiting the in-laws, or hiking the Grand Canyon is on the agenda? Not so much.
That's why you need to make your vacation all about you. Don't be afraid to inject some nerdiness in your summer plans. Sure, a lot of us would rather sit in the living room in our underwear, avoiding human interaction. But if you're going to be forced to take a trip with the family unit, you might as well make it a good one.
We've searched high and low for some dorky places and events that will make you want to put down that game controller and venture out into the sunshine. You may even be tempted to talk to some humans – who may seem suspiciously like you -- when you get there.
Hang with the comic crowd
Our first destination suggestion is the most glaringly obvious Mecca for nerds: ComiCon 2014. Held this July 24 to 27 in lovely San Diego, it can double as the perfect summer getaway, as long as you don't mind dressing up as Wonder Woman or one of her less-recognizable brethren. Originally based on comic books and science fiction, the conference now covers a broad range of pop culture, including video gaming, animation, and fantasy, as well as horror film, arts, and collectibles. Be prepared for a crowd. The San Diego conference center holds 130,000 people, and has sold out in recent years.
Aliens among us
You'll want to pack those bags in a hurry to head out to the annual UFO Festival in Roswell, N. M., because it's just around the corner from July 3 to 6 (apparently aliens bow to no flag). The long weekend includes an extensive speaker roster, costume contest, light parade, entertainment, the "Alien Chase" 5/10k run, and family activities. The Robert H. Goddard Planetarium also offers special educational and entertainment programs throughout the festival. If you want to do some heavy-duty research, save some time to visit the International UFO Museum & Research Center, located right in downtown Roswell. This facility "maintains its position as the serious side of the UFO phenomena," according to its website.
Journey to the middle of the earth
Tolkien fans will positively trip over their furry feet trying to get to this place as fast as possible. Although it appears to be Middle Earth, it is the area of northern New Zealand along the Waikato River where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. The natural scenery is breathtaking in its beauty and diversity. But almost too cute to draw your eyes away from is Hobbiton, the movie set for the Shire that has been rebuilt into a permanent tourist attraction. The 10 acres of rolling green hills feature hobbit holes, a restaurant, gift shop, and the famous Green Dragon Inn. If your heart yearns more for the gardens of Isengard, the River Anduin, or the forests of Lothlorien, you can find dozens of tours that will cater to you as well. Even Mordor (in the volcanic Taupo region) is on the agenda.
Who do you love?
If you're dying to meet a Dalek on your day off, then Cardiff is the place to go. The capital city of Wales is the home of the Doctor Who Experience, a BBC-owned "immersive exhibition" that displays authentic props, aliens, and sets used on the show for the 50 years it's been entertaining loyal Whovians. During the Experience, guests walk through an adventure where they encounter villains fromevery corner of time and space, explore inside the TARDIS, and see actual costumes from all 11 Doctors. The ticket price includes a walking tour of nearby filming locations. The more adventurous can also book a private tour with a former show employee to get access to additional shooting locations in the Cardiff Bay area and hear about the onset shenanigans of the Doctor and his crew.
Get your motor runnin'
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi almost didn't make our list. Then we thought, if you're cool enough to own a real Ferrari, you're not very likely to pay admission to ride on a roller coaster pretending to look like one. However, the ride in question is the Formula Rossa, currently the world's fastest roller coaster with top speed of 150 mph. And the location isn't bad, nestled on Yas Island and developed as part of Abu Dhabi's growing sporting, retail, and entertainment districts. The park boasts more than 20 racing-themed rides under a roof more than 2 million square feet in area, making it the largest indoor theme park in the world. So the place is pretty cool, but we won't tell if you go.
If you build it, they will come
If a cross between the Magic Kingdom and Maker Faire sounds like the perfect getaway for you, then start making plans to visit Legoland. There are six of these resorts around the world, with the most recent finishing up construction in Winter Haven, Fla. The parks include Lego-themed hotels with interactive Lego features and entertainment, water parks, aquariums, amusement rides, all kinds of games and activities, and plenty of Lego models on display. The Imagination Zone is an interactive part of the park where nerds will truly shine. Here, guests can build a Lego car and test it on a digitally timed track, build and program Mindstorms robots, watch movies in 4-D, and indulge in other geeky pursuits.
Get smart about spy tech
Washington, D.C. has museums galore, but not many of them can produce the same spine-tingling anticipation of the International Spy Museum. So what if your secret agent style is more along the lines of Agent 86 than 007? X-ray glasses, self-destructing recordings, and women of mystery still can't be beat. The museum has an extensive collection of the gadgets and gear spies throughout history have used, and a rich variety of special programs. There are currently exhibits on James Bond villains as well as Soviet spies who posed as American citizens during the Cold War. Brave visitors can take on an interactive spy experience, in which they are challenged to complete a mission in an hour. Also be sure to check out the many lectures and special programs (many with former spies) on the events calendar.
To infinity and beyond!
Maybe you always wanted to be an astronaut, and you're still holding onto the hope of colonizing Mars or riding alongside Richard Branson in his rocket. Chances are, one of those is a long time coming and the other is out of your price range. But if you head for Huntsville, Ala., you can get all the glory of being an astronaut without ever leaving the ground. Yes, Space Camp has an Adult Space Academy that's held on the weekends and pretty reasonably priced. The program includes hands-on spaceflight education using real equipment, training on astronaut simulators including the 1/6th gravity chair and multi-axis trainer, and building and launching a model rocket.
The science of dino detection
If your nerd instincts send you in a paleontological direction, the Museum of Western Colorado on the cusp of the Moab Desert should be on your itinerary. Dinosaur lovers can go on fossil track tours, raft trips through the spectacular Ruby Canyon geological area, and hands-on full day dinosaur digs. You'll learn about excavation techniques and surrounding geology, including the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in the Morrison Formation. On the dig, you can assist paleontologists in the removal of dinosaur bones and teeth. In June, a museum group actually discovered a 6-foot femur bone believed to belong to an Apatosaurus between 80 and 90 feet long.
Times Square may seem exciting if you're into theater and fashion. But for those of us who can't get enough anime and video gaming, a visit to the Akihabara Electric Town section of Tokyo would make traveling to Japan well worth the trip. The area gained its nickname as a shopping district for household electronics after World War II. Today, it's a thriving retail center for the latest in computer and gaming electronics, as well as related Japanese pop culture. If you want to experience the otaku culture in person, this is the place to be.
Knights in shining armor
Need to vent a bit of pent-up aggression this summer? Then the annual Pennsic War may be a good vacation destination for you. Held from July 25 to August 10 at Cooper's Lake Campground in western Pennsylvania, the tussle is the largest event put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism, drawing more than 10,000 participants. A medieval war ensues between the Kingdom of the East and the Kingdom of the Middle, everyone dressed in armor and chain mail during what will likely be the hottest two weeks of the year on the eastern seaboard.
But wait, the fun has just started! There is some serious weaponry training available at the event, including fencing and other types of sword fighting, atl-atl throwing, and fighting with sickles. If you need a break from the blood and gore, however, you can join the choir, run the Pennsic half marathon, watch a daily play, or learn a medieval skill like cheesemaking, blacksmithing, or glassblowing. And this year marks the premiere season of Dancing with the Pennsic Stars -- who would want to miss that?
For those with less interest in violence but still harboring a propensity for dressing in medieval garb, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival takes place from the beginning of August through Labor Day weekend. This has grown to be the largest Renaissance faire in the US, with an annual attendance of 300,000 people. Maybe that's because farther north, the costumes don't feel quite so smothering. This festival is focused on 16th century fashion, food, shopping, and entertainment, although it does have "intense" live armored jousting on the agenda. Princesses, fairies, and mermaids seem to frequent this location, according to the festival's website (yes, there is even a Mermaid Cove), so if you're a fantasy-loving nerd, this place may be heaven.
Nerd native habitat
Of course, no nerdy list would be complete without a nod to the Silicon Valley, where it's hard to find things that aren't nerdy. You'll want to start off by seeing where tech was born, so drive by the house in Menlo Park where Google began, the Palo Alto house where Facebook started, and -- the granddaddy of them all -- the HP Garage, where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were credited with founding the Silicon Valley itself.
For the most tech per square foot, a visit to the Computer History Museum is in order. The museum covers the history of computing in 20 galleries, from the abacus to the Internet, in a collection with more than 90,000 computing artifacts (making it the world's largest). While popular exhibits include vintage technology, such as a Difference Engine designed by Charles Babbage in the 1840s, a restoration of a historic PDP-1 minicomputer, and a Cray-1 supercomputer, new technology is on the menu, too. Current special programs on IBM Watson and self-driving cars are featured, and many of the museum's exhibits can be accessed online. Ironically, one of these explores the history of the technology leading up to Google Street View and the concept of "surrogate travel." If we can experience all of these places simply using our laptops or iPads, maybe we don't need to leave the living room after all